Apocalypsmas: The Mayan Calendar

Welcome to our 10 Day Countdown to the “Apocalypsmas” or the ‘end of time’. Join us each day to learn a little bit about the significance of the Mayan calendar and the date 12/21/2012.

First up: An introduction to the Maya calendar from Geneseo’s very own Dr. Jim Aimers (who will be giving a lecture on the Maya collapse at the Toledo Museum of Art in April for the Archaeological Institute of America).

Credit: NOVA

Mesoaamerica is an ancient cultural area which includes parts of Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.  Mesoamerica was one of seven global “cradles of civilization” in which advanced states developed in part due to the large populations made possible by maize agriculture.  Civilizations of ancient Mesoamerica included the Olmecs, the Zapotecs, the Mixtecs, the Aztecs, and the Maya.  These socially stratified groups shared cultural characteristics including religions involving animal and human sacrifice, and a ballgame played for religious, political, and recreational reasons.

Another feature shared by Mesoamerican cultures is a sophisticated calendar consisting of two interlocking cycles:  a 365 day “solar” cycle that, like ours, follows the course of the solar year and is relevant to all agricultural peoples.  The other, specifically Mesoamerican cycle was the 260 year “ritual” cycle used for scheduling events including ritual and warfare, and also for naming and prognostication. Among the Maya these were called the Haab and the Tzolkin. The two cycles are often depicted as interlocking wheels (for a short video, see below) and it took 52 years for the two cycles to run their combined course, which is called the “Calendar Round.”

In addition to the 52-year Mesoamerican “century”, the ancient Maya also developed another way of measuring time which is more familiar to us because it measures time in linear fashion from a mythological starting point. Our start date is 0 AD and in our system the Maya start date was 3114 BC (we do not know for sure why they chose this date).  Like other Mesoamericans, the Maya counted in base 20 (vigesimal) rather than base 10  (decimal) as we do.  Using this base 20 system, time was measured in the following units:

Credit: Stevan Davies, Misericordia University

1 day = 1 kin

20 days =1 winal

360 days =1 tun (approximately a year)

7,200 days =1 katun (approximately 20 years)

144,000 days =1 baktun (approximately 400 years).

On December 21, 2012  a very large Long Count cycle of 13 baktuns (1,872,000 days  or5,125.37 years) will end and a new one will begin.  This has been widely misunderstood to signify “the end of time” in the United States and elsewhere.  Did the Maya believe this?  Why do we believe it?

Endangered Alphabets Exhibit

The  Departments of Anthropology and Languages & Literatures and Milne Library present:Endangered Alphabets Exhibit Opening
Endangered Alphabets Mandic Board
Endangered Alphabets Mandic Board

With artist and author, Tim Brookes**, Director of Professional Writing at Champlain College

Milne 105
Wednesday, November 2, 2011
2:30 PM

Wood Shavings - A Work In Progress
Wood Shavings - A Work In Progress

Writing has become so dominated by a small number of global cultures that the 6,000-7,000 languages of the world are written in fewer than 100 alphabets. Moreover, at least a third of the world’s remaining alphabets are endangered—no longer taught in schools, no longer used for commerce or government, understood only by a few elders, restricted to a few monasteries or used only in ceremonial documents, magic spells, or secret love letters.

The Endangered Alphabets Project, which consists of fourteen carvings and a book, is the first-ever attempt to bring attention to this issue. The text is the same for each, namely, Article One of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”

All are invited to attend.

Refreshments will be served, courtesy of the Anthropology Student Group.

For more information about the display, see The Endangered Alphabets Project (http://www.endangeredalphabets.com/)

Tim Brookes, Artist & Author
Tim Brookes, Artist & Author

**Tim Brookes has this to say about himself:

“I was born in a small house in London, of parents who were poor, honest and liked going for very long walks. My education consisted of being forced to take written exams every five or six weeks, and eat school lunches of liver and onions-until I got to Oxford, where we had written exams every eight weeks and had lunches of pickled onions and
Guinness.This was quite enough to make me flee the country and seek gainful employment in Vermont, where I have lived for 24 years, writing a great deal and trying to grow good raspberries. Only one of my books has been translated into another language; it appeared in Dutch as “Geen plek om een koe kwijt te raken.” My favorite color is russet. If I had my life all over again, I would take more risks, like smuggling the liver out of the dining hall wrapped in my handkerchief.Read more about Tim on his blog, www.timbrookesinc.com.”